New hydraulic fracturing reports are excellent resources for local officials

Local elected and appointed officials sometimes struggle to decide how to address resident concerns about hydraulic fracturing. A new set of reports help officials learn about the issues before they act.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is the oil and gas development technique where large volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals are pumped under high pressure to release deep oil and gas reserves. The method is controversial nationally and in Michigan because of concerns about potential environmental and human health impacts.

Some planning commissions and township boards are under pressure from citizens and organized advocacy groups to do something to limit hydraulic fracturing in their community, or are concerned themselves about this issue. Others may advocate promoting expanded oil and gas development to create local jobs and income. Although most of the authority to regulate oil and gas development in Michigan rests with state agencies, there is still a desire take local action.

In a contentious township planning commission or township board meeting, where advocates on both sides of the issue are suggesting action, it is difficult for local officials to make informed decisions under pressure. One option in these situations is for decision-makers to pause and seek unbiased information to better evaluate the issues and policy choices, before making formal resolutions or regulations.

The University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute recently published a series set of technical reports about hydraulic fracturing that are excellent resources for local leaders wishing to better understand hydraulic fracturing issues and the policy framework.

The set includes eight technical reports:

  • Overview and glossary: the integrated assessment process and a glossary of commonly-used terms
  • Technology: hydraulic fracturing technology and history in Michigan
  • Geology/hydrogeology: Michigan’s geology and current oil and gas extraction methods
  • Environment/Ecology: potential hydraulic fracturing environmental impacts
  • Public Health: possible health hazards related to hydraulic fracturing
  • Policy/Law: existing laws and policies that apply to oil and gas wells using hydraulic fracturing
  • Economics: state revenues, private income, property values and employment impacts of oil and gas development
  • Public Perceptions: current knowledge on public perceptions about hydraulic fracturing and deep natural gas development

These technical reports are the first part of a project to identify key strategies and policy options for managing hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. The final integrated assessment will be published in mid-2014.

The reports are quite detailed – certainly not quick reading. Despite their length and complexity, the information within the reports can be very useful for local officials seeking to learn more about hydraulic fracturing before deciding on a local course of action. Michigan State University Extension has additional information about this and other related topics on the oil and gas information page.

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